Rift over Zimbabwe’s unity plan

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Published on Internat. Herald Tribune IHT, by Celia W. Dugger and Alan Cowell, April 24, 2008.

JOHANNESBURG: As Zimbabwe’s political impasse drags into its fourth week, talk of a power-sharing deal between the governing party and the opposition came to the fore Wednesday, though both sides indicated they were unprepared for the compromises that would be required.

An editorial in the state-run newspaper, often used as a mouthpiece for Zimbabwe’s longtime strongman, President Robert Mugabe, floated a proposal for a transitional unity government that would be headed by Mugabe until new elections could be organized.

Lending support to the idea, Jacob Zuma, head of South Africa’s governing African National Congress and potentially a future president of South Africa, the region’s most powerful country, also called discussions over a national unity government “the natural thing” to do given Zimbabwe’s deepening crisis …

… on page 2/end: Over the past decade, as Mugabe’s rule has become more authoritarian and the country’s economy has crumbled into ruins, he has counted on the open support or tacit acquiescence of other African leaders, but that solidarity appears to be cracking.

Still, it is far from clear that any outsiders – even those in his own region – can influence Mugabe or the military leaders around him.

South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, has acted as the main mediator in the crisis and has pursued a policy of “quiet diplomacy” that many critics here have likened to appeasement of Mugabe.

But Jacob Zuma, who last year defeated Mbeki for the leadership of South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress, has called on other African leaders to “move in to unlock this logjam.”

Still, he was hesitant to criticize Mbeki’s approach and denied that “quiet diplomacy” had failed, saying South Africa had decided “not to stand on rooftops and criticize Mugabe” in order to be able to talk to both sides in the dispute. “It would not have been prudent for us to stand there and criticize them,” he said. “How could we have engaged with both sides if we did so?”

He added: “We decided to engage Zimbabweans quietly and it was dubbed quiet diplomacy. We can produce a better report than anyone else on what happened”. (full long text).

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